A journey of renewal

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin speaks about Germany and Israel and Ohr Torah Stone’s upcoming trip.

Shlomo Riskin 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shlomo Riskin 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
He’s taken on countless challenges and projects throughout his illustrious career, but Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s highlight may be the journey he plans to lead, with a Jewish renewal mission, to Germany and Israel in May.
The chief rabbi of Efrat, chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions and a central rabbinic figure of the last few decades (as well as a Jerusalem Post columnist), Riskin has touched the lives of tens of thousands of people around the Jewish world.
In celebration of Ohr Torah Stone’s 30th anniversary, Riskin is spearheading a milestone mission to look at Germany’s Jewish communities, heritage sites and national landmarks, paying tribute to deep Jewish roots and to the worst anti-Semitism the world has ever known.
The mission will focus on the integral Torah rebirth in Hitler’s own cities, and the impact Ohr Torah Stone has had on unifying, strengthening and ensuring the future survival of the Jewish people abroad and at home. According to Riskin, the idea of the mission is to reflect on roots and rejuvenation, and to see sites firsthand, thus providing participants with a new view of Jewish heritage.
“I cannot think of a place that better illustrates Jewish survival than Germany. In every war, there’s a winner and a loser. Sometimes the winner loses many lives,” Riskin told In Jerusalem.
“The war that Hitler waged, we lost six million of our most sacred people, of our most sacred souls. And yet, we dare never forget that we won that war.
“Hitler is dead, Nazism is dead, but the Jewish people are alive. The State of Israel grew from the ashes of Auschwitz. The eternalness of the Jewish people, the message of the Jewish people and the Torah of the Jewish people lives on, even in Hitler’s own backyard.”
The mission will take participants on a journey tracing the rise of the Nazi Party: a look back to Hitler’s power base, the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, the marketplace, Odeon Plaza and the Residenz Palace; and look forward to hope and renewal at the new Jewish community center, synagogue, schools and museum.
“We have 11 rabbis in Germany bringing Jews back and out of the woodwork, and in many cases converting them to Judaism. Even in Hitler’s own country, he didn’t succeed in vanquishing the Jewish people or the Torah,” said Riskin.
Additional stops will include Frankfurt, including reflections on the history and destruction in Dachau, at the first concentration camp; in Worms, where biblical commentator Rashi wrote and taught; at the Gutenberg Press that revolutionized Jewish learning in Mainz; and the community of Kanaan in Darmstadt.
The next leg begins in Berlin, where discovering the “higher meaning of suffering and persecution” includes the Grunewald deportation Track 17; the villa of the Wannsee Conference; the Jewish Quarter and museum; the Holocaust memorial; the encapsulated Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue; Checkpoint Charlie; the Bebelplatz where books were burned; and the Parliament of the German Empire, located in the Reichstag Building.
When the group travels to Israel, it will celebrate Shabbat and Jerusalem Day together; marvel at photojournalist David Rubinger’s account of his eye-opening historical backstories; and shake hands with Israel’s policymakers from Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, to the architect of the West Bank security barrier, Col. (res.) Danny Tirza. “The Israel component is simple, this is where Ohr Torah Stone is based and we are celebrating at home – our own home, and the home of all Jews,” said Riskin.
“Our first exile, the Egyptian experience, was a 210-year holocaust in which our Hebrew adults were sent to hellish work camps, and our male infants thrown into the Nile.
On Seder night we remember the pain; we eat bitter herbs and dip into saltwater tears.
“But the Seder is a night of victory. We emerged triumphant over Pharaoh. Our God bested the Egyptian idols. And our people emerged free of enslavement and on the way to Israel. Our victory in Egypt, and our victory over Hitler, power the way for our optimistic faith in our mission to redeem the world.”
According to Riskin, there were two defining moments in modern Jewish history – the Holocaust, and the return to the Jewish state. Ohr Torah Stone has played an important role in developing the latter.
“My original vision was [born from the fact] that I was a Jew who was privileged to live in the year of the establishment of the Jewish state,” said Riskin. “And that I believed this is where I should be living; that whatever happens in the Diaspora would be, at best, a footnote to Jewish history. And in Israel, the chapter headings are being written. And I felt that if I had one chance in life, I would like be part of a chapter heading – rather than a part of a footnote.”
“The message is the fact that the Jewish people ultimately won the war, and how do you prove that? You come back; it’s the Jewish continuity, and the Jewish future.
“I think it will be a trip no one will ever forget.” • The Germany-to-Israel mission will be taking place from May 19 to 22 in Germany, and from May 23 to 28 in Israel. For more information visit the Ohr Torah Stone website at www.ots.org.il, or its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OTS30th